School Safety: How Quickly Should Schools Tell Parents about an Incident?

School Safety: How Quickly Should Schools Tell Parents about an Incident?

At 8:40 this morning I did something completely crazy. I bundled my daughter up in her coat, hat and gloves, walked her two blocks to this big brick building on the corner, opened up the door to the cafeteria, andleft her there! I didn't follow her in to make sure she got to a table safely. I didn't follow her upstairs to her classroom to make sure she put her coat away properly. I didn't sit at her desk and listen to the other kids talk to make absolutely sure no one was ever being mean to her, and I don't have the room bugged to ensure her teacher is never yelling at her.

I didn't do any of these things because Maya is in first grade. She goes to school every Monday through Friday, and she does so without me! Because that is what school is: The place where you leave your kid so someone else can teach them. I, as a parent, have to trust that I picked a good school and that Maya's teacher is at least a halfway decent one.

Or I can homeschool her.

And there is no way that is happening.

About three weeks ago, two kindergarten students walked out of those same lunchroom doors and down the street. No one saw them leave. A kind neighbor found them a couple of blocks away and returned them, completely unharmed, to the school.

I know that she did all these things because I was told them, this week, in a letter that went home. Also, I saw them first hand, when I did my shift in the lunchroom this past Wednesday.

But the incident actually happened on a Thursday, over two weeks ago. By the following Tuesday, the parent community was abuzz with gossip. Emails were flying back and forth. Moms were whispering to each other at pickup time. At least half the school had heard what had happened. But nothing had been sent home yet. No formal letter from the principal, no phone call. That next Monday there was a PTA meeting about the issue and the next day a notice finally came home in my child's backpack. A full two weeks after the fact.

The principal claimed that administrative protocol had prevented her from letting everyone know sooner. And I believed her. Besides, who cares when I got the memo? What matters is that the kids are safe. What matters is that the principal put new policies into place immediately. What matters is that new alarm on the lunchroom door, not how long she waited to tell us about it. To me anyway.

But many parents did not feel the way I did. In fact, they were absolutely furious! How dare the school administration wait two weeks to inform them of what had happened! They should have been told immediately!

Are they right? Should parents expect full disclosure, of all school happenings, as soon as they occur?

School Safety: How Quickly Should Schools Tell Parents about an Incident?
Credit: rod_waddington.

When you send your young child off to school, you are trusting someone else with their care and well being, as well as, of course, their education. If you are an involved parent, you do some research first, ask a bunch of questions, and then pick a school that you feel comfortable with. Where you can let go. Because you have to. You have no choice.

I am sure that all kinds of things happen while my child is in school that I know nothing about. I have no idea what she is doing right now, at 9:15am. She could be reading a book, or getting punched in the arm by that little boy who she thinks is "really funny." Throughout the course of the day she is going to learn things that I will never hear about. She may even fall down, or feel sick, or get sad and I will never know. Such is the nature of sending my kid off to school.

If there is a fire during the day, and the kids all exit the building like they practiced, the fire department comes and puts it out, and then they go back to their classrooms for math; I would like to know about it. If a kid gets sick from rancid meat and the principal decides to order pizza for the remainder of the lunch period, I would like to know about it. Keeping these things a secret violates the trust that I put in the leaders of my child's school.

But how soon do I need to know? Well, unless it directly affects my child, the answer is -- unfortunately -- whenever the school thinks I do.

Which may sometimes, be never.

Of course, the parents of those two kindergartners were called immediately. But the other parents, the ones who are now furious, had to wait. So they are upset. They feel like their trust was betrayed. And I get it.

But the thing is, it wasn't. They were told what happened, exactly when the principal felt they needed to know. Which was after the problem had been solved. It just wasn't soon enough for them. Because sending your kid to school every day is scary. Letting go is scary. Fear leads to anger. And anyone who has seen Star Wars knows how the rest of that goes.

The truth is, if we were all called that very same day, immediately after the kids were brought back, we as parents would have done absolutely nothing differently. But we would have felt better because we knew something.

Maya's school has a very active PTA. The principal is open to parent involvement and suggestions and really makes us feel like we are all working together to make the school great. We have loooong meetings full of enthusiastic conversation. Its real nice. It is so nice, in fact, that it is easy to forget that the only person who is actually in charge of the school, is the principal.

I chose this nice school two blocks from my house as the place to send my most precious thing, my child. I attended the meeting about safety procedures and the one about the asinine Common Core. I even volunteer there once a week so I can feel like I am contributing. Beyond that I have to let go and trust that Maya's teacher knows what she is doing. Trust that when something happens that I need to know about, someone from the school will call me. Eventually.

Newtown was a terrible, terrible tragedy. What happened to Avonte was horrible. Everyone loves to talk about how "bad people are everywhere." But it was a complete stranger who brought those two kindergartners back to the school. Unharmed. Because the truth is that good people are actually everywhere. The bad ones, are few and far between. And if we focus on all the "what ifs," we will never send our children anywhere.

It is 9:45. I think Maya is in science class now. Or maybe gym. As for what she is doing there, I do not need to know.

I trust them.

(Well not that gym teacher. She is kind of creepy.)

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